A recent trip to Saskatchewan has created a number of new ideas for Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) division to help aid First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students in educational success.
FNMI student success co-ordinator Shelia Hagemann, superintendent Larry Jacobs and assistant superintendent of inclusive learning services Amber Hester took the trip to tour a number of Saskatchewan school divisions.
In a presentation she made to the WCPS board of trustees on Wednesday, Feb. 4, Hagemann said every division across Saskatchewan is unified in working toward two goals, the first one being closing the cultural gap when it comes to FNMI students in schools.
She says the schools work to make sure most every aspect of the education system can be geared toward the students. “They want to make sure they have cultural identity for the students.”
“Parental involvement is huge for them,” she added. Teachers will routinely hold parent-teachers meeting on the reserves for better access for the families. This is a strategy the Ponoka Outreach School has been using for years.
Trustee Bob Huff was concerned that with so many programs in WCPS, the division would be in direct competition with schools in the Maskwacis community. Hagemann says everybody is happy to get along and work together with the students as the common goal.
Teachers in the Saskatchewan schools are geared to be culturally responsive and in some schools areas are decorated with powwow themes and rooms are set aside for cultural traditions such as smudging.
“They really wanted to make sure that there was a cultural space within the school that is a target for FNMI,” Hagemann explained.
In the schools, staff members regularly meet with the FNMI students to monitor their sense of engagement and belonging.
Physical resources such as books, hides and traps are also brought into the schools to teach all students about FNMI culture.
“It’s huge in Saskatchewan, the treaty teachings. All teachers need to teach in the classrooms about the treaties and in understanding what that is. The treaties isn’t a document that’s in the past, the treaties is still ongoing,” said Hagemann.
“They also wanted to make sure they worked closely with their community. They were creating a community that would raise the children together,” said Hagemann.
The schools also take an interest in student involvement in communities, such as employment in the registered apprenticeship programs and work experience opportunities. This is an idea WCPS has looked into in the past.
In order to help teachers develop cultural competencies many travel to New Zealand to see how the country finds success with aboriginal students. “They probably have on of the most advanced systems in the world when it comes to dealing with aboriginals,” said Jacobs.
Schools in Saskatchewan have employed an academic adoption program. If a student’s grades slip down to an area of concern, a teacher “adopts” the student. Not only do they work with them academically, but look into the causes of the trouble. For example if the student is not at school one day, the teacher will look into it.
This is an arrangement Hagemann is excited to further develop in WCPS. “And some of this work is already started, it just needs some tweaking.”
While Hagemann brought many ideas back, there were also many parallels found with practices WCPS already have. Parts of Saskatchewan use bodies similar to WCPS Wisdom and Guidance Committee and bring elders right into the classroom, just like WPCS Elders Program.
“The best place to make a change is in the classroom,” said Hagemann.
Huff feels Hagemann should also make her presentation to Ponoka County, as some of Maskwacis falls in the county. “I think this is how we need to start, we need to network out there.”